Friday, July 17, 2009

Alexandria Has Some Catching Up To Do. Route 1 Would Be a Good Start.

During a recent presentation by the Mayor's Institute on Design to Alexandria City staff, Christopher Leinberger compared Arlington to Alexandria in a way that really struck home.

Paraphrased, he said that while Alexandria has really excelled at preserving the past, Arlington has outpaced Alexandria in building for the future. While Alexandria should preserve its history, much of Alexandria land-use is stuck somewhere between the 1950s and today, complete with suburban development patterns and car-serving business and industry.

Somehow, Arlington just seems to come up with good ideas to produce a more pedestrian-friendly, urban environment. Take the latest example: Arlington wants to assume control of Columbia Pike from VDOT to expedite the realization of their vision for the corridor (tip: DCMud). They're spending most of the money, they have the plans, so why should they have to wait on a highway and suburbia happy institution and jump through hoops to realize that plan?

Alexandria has a transportation plan that finally incorporates multi-modal transportation instead of focusing entirely on roads. Part of this plan is to develop BRT or streetcars on and around Route 1 between old town and the Arlington border (extended into Crystal City and Pentagon City by Arlington). Were Alexandria to look extensively into land use planning during their transportation planning process, they could turn the meeting point of Potomac Yard, Del Ray, and the North End neighborhoods (Arlandria et al) into a lively, walkable area.

Property value and potential land-use flexibility for land adjacent to Route 1 suffers from the roads use as an suburban-style highway as opposed to an urban street (2006 WashPo article). The road is "a hostile environment", as stated by then Planning Commission Chair Eric Wagner. Alexandria needs to expedite the process of transforming this highway back to a street. This means both the street and the land surrounding it needs to be re-envisioned. This site discusses plans for the street, now the west side of Route 1 needs a comprehensive plan (note: The Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transit Improvement project focussed on BRT, though streetcars are still under consideration. Here's a GGW article comparing the two).

With so much investment coming into Potomac Yard, Alexandria's treatment of Route 1 has a big say in its success, and the impression Potomac Yard redevelopment will leave on the neighborhoods to the west of the highway. Will Potomac Yard turn into a welcoming city that flows seamlessly into nearby neighborhoods or a isolated island of concrete on the other side of a very intimidating highway?

Kudos to Arlington for this creative way to expedite walkable street progress. Alexandria could learn a few things from Arlington's willingness to figure out ways to get things done (decades of waffling on Potomac Yard Metro, anyone?).

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